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Directed Panspermia F. H. C. CRICK and L. E. Orgel

Directed Panspermia F. H. C. CRICK and L. E. Orgel

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Published by Andrew Johnson
Francis Crick and L. Orgel consider in an academic Paper that life may have been brought here from elsewhere.
Francis Crick and L. Orgel consider in an academic Paper that life may have been brought here from elsewhere.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Andrew Johnson on Jul 05, 2009
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Directed Panspermia
 Medical Research Council, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Row, Cambridge, England 
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, P,O. Box 1809, San Diego, California 92112
Received June 22, 1972; revised December 20, 1972(Published in Icarus 19, 1973, P341-346)It now seems unlikely that extraterrestrial living organisms could have reached the earth either as sporesdriven by the radiation pressure from another star or as living organisms imbedded in a meteorite. As analternative to these nineteenth century mechanisms, we have considered Directed Panspermia, the theorythat organisms were deliberately transmitted to the earth by intelligent beings on another planet. Weconclude that it is possible that life reached the earth in this way, but that the scientific evidence isinadequate at the present time to say anything about the probability. We draw attention to the kinds of evidence that might throw additional light on the topic.
It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that Pasteur and Tyndall completed the demonstrationthat spontaneous generation is not occurring on the Earth nowadays. Darwin and a number of otherbiologists concluded that life must have evolved here long ago when conditions were more favourable. Anumber of scientists, however, drew a quite different conclusion. They supposed that if life does not evolvefrom terrestrial non-living, matter nowadays, it may never have done so. Hence, they argued, life reachedthe earth as an "infection" from another planet (Oparin, 1957).Arrhenius (1909) proposed that spores had been driven here by the pressure of the light from the centralstar of another planetary system. His theory is known as Panspermia. Kelvin suggested that the firstorganisms reached the Earth in a meteorite. Neither of these theories is absurd, but both can be subjected tosevere criticism. Sagan (Shklovski and Sagan, 1966; Sagan and Whitehall, 1973) has shown that anyknown type of radiation-resistant spore would receive so large a dose of radiation during its journey to theEarth from another Solar System that it would he extremely unlikely to remain viable. The probability thatsufficiently massive objects escape from a Solar System and arrive on the planet of another one isconsidered to be so small that it is unlikely that a single meteorite of extrasolar origin has ever reached thesurface of the Earth (Sagan, private communication). These arguments may not be conclusive, but theyargue against the "infective" theories of the origins of life that were proposed in the nineteenth century.It has also been argued that "infective" theories of the origins of terrestrial life should be rejected becausethey do no more than transfer the problem of origins to another planet. This view is mistaken; the historicalfacts are important in their own right. For all we know there may be other types of planet on which theorigin of life ab initio is greatly more probable than on our own. For example, such a planet may possess amineral, or compound, of crucial catalytic importance, which is rare on Earth. it is thus important to knowwhether primitive organisms evolved here or whether they arrived here from somewhere else. Here we re-examine this problem in the light of more. recent biological and astronomical information.
The local galactic system is estimated to be about 13 x 10
years old (See Metz, 1972). The first generationof stars, because they were formed from light elements, are unlikely to have been accompanied by planets.However, some second generation stars not unlike the Sun must have formed within 2 x 10
yr of the originof the galaxy (Blaauw and Schmidt, 1965). Thus it is quite probable that planets not unlike the Earthexisted as much as 6.5 x 10
years before the formation of our own Solar System.We know that not much more than 4 x 10
year elapsed between the appearance of life on the Earth(wherever it came from) and the development of our own technological society. The time available makes
- 2 -it possible, therefore, that technological societies existed elsewhere in the galaxy
even before the formationof the Earth
. We should, therefore, consider a new "infective" theory, namely that a primitive form of life,was deliberately planted on the Earth by a technologically advanced society on another planet.Are there many planets which could be infected with somechance of success? It is believed, though the evidence is weak and indirect, that in the galaxy many stars, of a size notdissimilar to our Sun, have planets, on a fair fraction of whichtemperatures are suitable for a form of life based on carbonchemistry and liquid water, as ours is. Experimental studiesof the production of organic chemicals under prebioticconditions make it seem likely that a rich prebiotic soupaccumulates on a high proportion of such Earthlike planets.Unfortunately, we know next to nothing about the probabilitythat life evolves within a few billion years in such a soup,either on our own special Earth, or still less on other Earthlikeplanets.If the probability that life evolves in a suitable environment islow, we may be able to prove that we are likely to be alone inthe galaxy (Universe). If it is high, the galaxy may bepullulating with life of many different forms. At the moment,we have no means at all of knowing which of these alternatives is correct. We are thus free to postulate thatthere have been (and still are) many places in the galaxy where life could exist but that, in at least a fractionof them, after several billion years the chemical systems had not evolved to the point of self-replication andnatural selection. Such planets, if they do exist, would form an excellent breeding ground for externalmicro-organisms. Note that because many, if not all, such planets would have a reducing atmosphere theywould not be very hospitable to the higher forms of life as we know them on Earth.
The possibility that terrestrial life derives from the deliberate activity of an extraterrestrial society has oftenbeen considered in science fiction and more or less light-heartedly in a number of scientific papers. Forexample, Gold (1960) has suggested that we might have evolved from the micro-organisms inadvertentlyleft behind by some previous visitors from another planet (for example, in their garbage). Here we wish toexamine a very specific form of Directed Panspermia. Could life have started on Earth as a result of infection by microorganisms sent here deliberately by a technological society on another planet, by meansof a special long range unmanned spaceship? To show that this is not totally implausible we shall use thetheorem of detailed cosmic reversibility; if we are capable of infecting an as yet lifeless extrasolar planet,then, given that. the time was available, another technological society might well have infected our planetwhen it was still lifeless.
The spaceship would carry large samples of a number of microorganisms, each having different but simplenutritional requirements, for example blue-green algae, which could grow on CO
, and water in “sunlight".A payload of 1000kg might be made up of 10 samples each containing 10
microorganisms, or 100samples each of 10
microorganisms.It would not be necessary to accelerate the spaceship to extremely high velocities, since its time of arrivalwould not be important. The radius of our galaxy is about 10
light years, so we could infect most planetsin the galaxy within 10
yr by means of a spaceship travelling at only one-thousandth of the velocity of light several thousand stars are within a hundred light years of the Earth and could be reached within as
Figure0 An approximate timescale for theEvents discussed in this paper. To simplify theillustration, the age of the galaxy has beensomewhat arbitrarily taken as 13 x 10
- 3 -little as a million years by a spaceship travelling at 60,000 mph, or within 10,000 yr if a speed one-hundredth of that of light were possibleThe technology required to carry out such an act of interstellar pollution is not available at the present time.However. it seems likely that the improvements in astronomical techniques will permit the location of extra-solar planets within the next few decades. Similarly the problem of sending spaceships to other stars,at velocities low compared with that of light, should not prove insoluble once workable nuclear engines areavailable. This again is likely to be within a few decades. The most difficult problem would be presentedby the long flight times; it is not clear how long it Will be before we can build components that wouldsurvive in space for periods of thousands or millions of years.Although there are some technological problems associated with the distribution of the microorganisms inviable form after a long journey through space, none of them seems insuperable. Some radiation protectioncould be provided during the journey. Suitable packaging should guarantee that small samples, includingsome viable organisms, would be widely distributed. The question of how long microorganisms, and inparticular bacterial spores, could survive in a spaceship has been considered in a preliminary way bySneath (1962). He concludes "that life could probably be preserved for periods of more than a million yearsif suitably protected and maintained at temperatures close to absolute zero." Sagan (1960) has given acomparable estimate of the effects of radiation damage. We conclude that within the foreseeable future wecould, if we wished, infect another planet, and hence that it is not out of the question that our planet wasinfected.We can in fact go further than this. It may be possible in the future to send either mice or men or elaborateinstruments to the planets of other Solar Systems (as so often described in science fiction) but a rocketcarrying microorganisms will always have a much greater effective range and so be advantageous if thesole aim is to spread life. This is true for several reasons. The conditions on many planets are likely tofavour microorganisms rather than higher organisms. Because of their extremely small size vast numbers of microorganisms can be carried, so much more wastage can he accepted. The ability of to survive, withoutspecial equipment, both storage for very long periods and at low temperatures and also an abrupt changeback to room temperatures is also a great advantage. Whatever the potential range for infection by otherorganisms, micro-organisms can almost certainly be sent further and probably much further.It should be noted that most of the earliest "fossils" so far recognized are somewhat similar to our presentbacteria or blue-green algae. They occur in cherts of various kinds and are estimated to be up to 3 x 10
yrold. This makes it improbable that the Earth was ever infected merely by higher organisms.
Next we must ask what motive we might have for polluting other planets. Since we would not derive anydirect advantage from such a programme, presumably it would be carried through either as a demonstrationof technological capability or, more probably, through some form of missionary zeal.It seems unlikely that we would deliberately send terrestrial organisms to planets that we believed mightalready be inhabited. However, in view of the precarious situation on Earth, we might well be tempted toinfect other planets if we became convinced that we were alone in the galaxy (Universe). As we havealready explained we cannot at the moment estimate the probability of this. The hypothetical senders onanother planet may have been able to prove that they were likely to be alone. and to remain so., or theymay have reached this conclusion mistakenly. In either case, if they resembled us psychologically, theirmotivation for polluting the galaxy would be strong, if they believed that all or ever the great majority of inhabitable planets could be given life by Directed Panspermia.The psychology of extraterrestrial societies is no better understood that terrestrial psychology. It is entirelypossible the extraterrestrial societies might infect other planets are quite different reasons than those with

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Justin Banks added this note
Very interesting article, the last point before the acknowledgments seemed a succinct and important one to make.
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